From Misfit to Anarchist: The impact of the Spanish Civil War on Captain J.R. White

By David Convery

Captain James Robert White (1879-1946), commonly referred to as Jack, appears in many publications as the man who conceived of, and then subsequently trained, the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) in I 9 I 3. Born into an upper-class family in Broughshane, County Antrim, White served as an officer in the British Army and received a Distinguished Service Order for his role in the South African (Boer) War, I 899- 1902. While later serving as aide-de-camp to his father, the Governor of Gibraltar, White had an epiphany which he termed an ‘inner revolution’- and abandoned his privileged upbringing to embark on a voyage of self-discovery, which, in many ways, he would remain on until the day he died. After first travelling and working in Bohemia and Canada, he joined a commune in the Cotswolds which was inspired by the ascetic and pacifist philosophy of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. White was not entirely convinced by Tolstoy, however, and left to plot his own course as a champion of the rights of the individual to complete spiritual and personal
freedom. Aniving in Dublin during the l9l3 Lockout, White readily identified with the workers’ cause, came under the influence of James Connolly, and earned his brief appearance in the history books, from which he then suddenly disappears. Misrtt, his memoir published in 1930, continues the narrative to 1916 and then frustratingly stops.2 Of his subsequent life, scholars have had to rely mainly on snippets of information gleaned from left-wing activists in the 1930s and a few brief, relatively obscure writings by White. It is from these that his second reputation as an icon among Irish anarchists has been built, inspiring numerous short biographies of his life.


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